A federal judge on Monday dismissed the final outstanding lawsuit filed by the parents of Kate Steinle following her death on a San Francisco pier in 2015 in a case that sparked a national debate over sanctuary city policies.
Jim Steinle and Elizabeth Sullivan sued the U.S. government for employing a ranger who left the handgun used in the crime unlocked in a vehicle on a downtown San Francisco street in June 2015. The gun ended up in the hands of Jose Garcia Zarate, killing Steinle when the gun fired when she walked with her father on Pier 14.
In Monday’s decision, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Ranger John Woychowski and his employer, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, may have been negligent by leaving the handgun unlocked in a backpack on the passenger side of his private SUV, Chief U.S. Magistrate Joseph Spero wrote. But Spero said too much time had passed and too many events had intervened by the time the 32-year-old was killed several days later. He noted that there also was no evidence Garcia Zarate had stolen the gun.
Garcia Zarate, who was living in the United States illegally, had been deported five times to his native Mexico and had just spent 46 months in federal prison for illegal re-entry when federal officials turned him over to San Francisco in March 2015 to face an old marijuana charge. The city released him under its sanctuary city policy.
He denied intentionally shooting the weapon, saying he found it wrapped in a towel and dropped it as it went off. A San Francisco jury acquitted Garcia Zarate of murder and assault charges and convicted him only of being a felon in possession of a gun. A state appeals court overturned the conviction.
Garcia Zarate, 46, who remains in custody, still faces federal charges of being a felon and an undocumented immigrant in possession of a gun and ammunition.
Steinle’s parents, also sued the city for damages. But Spero dismissed those claims in 2017, saying there was no prior evidence that Garcia Zarate was dangerous and federal law did not require the city to inform the government before he was released under San Francisco’s sanctuary city policy.
Alison Cordova, a lawyer for Steinle’s parents, said they would appeal the ruling.